By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Mark Richt has been the head coach at Georgia for nine seasons, the longest run of any active SEC coach. His career record is 90-27, but while the Bulldogs were a national power early in Richt's tenure, the team has taken a step backwards the last few years.
Bulldog fans knew that they would learn a great deal about the 2009 squad in
the opener at Oklahoma State, and when that contest resulted in a 24-10
defeat, concerns about the offense surfaced. Fortunately, the team rallied to
win its next three games, scoring more than 40 points in two of those affairs.
The first two weeks of October yielded losses to LSU and Tennessee, dropping
Georgia to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in SEC action, and by the end of the regular
season, the Bulldogs managed a 7-5 ledger, splitting their eight league
Richt and company earned a bid to the Independence Bowl on December 28th
against Texas A&M of the Big 12 Conference, and the result was an impressive
44-20 triumph. While most programs would be satisfied with an eight-win
campaign, that mark falls short of Georgia's expectations. The team finished
in the bottom half of the SEC in all four major offensive categories, ranked
10th in scoring defense (25.9 ppg), and posted a minus-16 in turnover margin
for the season, an unacceptable figure.
OFFENSE: "The quarterback room has got to be the youngest room maybe in the
history of college football," remarked Richt at the recent SEC Media Days.
"You got a redshirt freshman, a true freshman on scholarship and then two
walk-ons, and that is all that is in that quarterback room right now so it's
scary in there. But the good news is Aaron Murray is really doing a very good
job, and he knows the deal extremely well."
Murray is the redshirt freshman of the group, a prized recruit with special
talent. He will certainly benefit from the presence of A.J. Green, the team's
star receiver who now enters his junior campaign. Green made 53 catches for
808 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that actually fell short of the pace he
set as a freshman.
The hope is that Georgia will be able to run the ball consistently behind one
of the top offensive lines in the SEC. Clint Boling, a stud left tackle, is
one of four returning starters, and the group will open holes for the tandem
of Washaun Ealey, a sophomore, and junior Caleb King. Last season, Ealey
posted 717 yards and three touchdowns on 125 carries.
DEFENSE: Georgia welcomes back just four starters on the defensive side of the
ball, so expect to see plenty of new faces in 2010.
"Defensively everybody is still on a pretty good learning curve right now, but
everybody is ready to learn and prepare for this season," says Richt.
Three of the team's four defensive assistant coaches were fired after the 2009
season, and it remains to be seen if the shakeup will result in better play.
New coordinator Todd Grantham is orchestrating the switch from a 4-3 defense
to a 3-4, a move designed to create an attacking style. The Bulldogs were
solid against the run last season, ranking third in the SEC, but they
struggled mightily against the pass.
Brandon Boykin, a junior, is the only returning starter in the secondary, but
that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Boykin did intercept three passes
last season, the most of any returnee. Linebacker Justin Houston has star
potential, as he impressed everyone with 7.5 sacks a year ago.
Along the defensive line, Demarcus Dobbs, a senior, figures to be the leader.
SPECIAL TEAMS: It seems odd to say, but aside from Green and Boling on the
offensive side of the ball, Georgia's best players are kickers. Drew Butler,
the team's punter, won the Ray Guy Award last season, while Blair Walsh was a
finalist for the Lou Groza Award, awarded to the nation's top placekicker. To
further emphasize the strength of the Bulldogs' special teams units, Boykin
had two 100-yard returns for touchdowns last season.
OUTLOOK: Much of Georgia's success this season will come down to the play of
Murray under center.
"It's pretty clear that he is going to be the guy," says tight end Aron White.
"He's definitely not resting on his laurels. He's still working and grinding
because he feels like he has a lot to prove."
The non-conference schedule is favorable, and the Bulldogs are fortunate in
that they avoid Alabama. Still, a shot at the SEC title seems unlikely because
of the inexperience at quarterback and on defense.